If you leave a fight in the hands of the judges, anything can happen. The two decisions delivered on HBO's triple header at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas this weekend proved exactly that.
The night started off with what I expected to be the coming-out party for Jose Benavidez Jr., an extremely accomplished amateur who is the youngest winner of the National Golden Gloves Championship. Benavidez walked into his first title opportunity against Mauricio "El Maestro" Herrera, who was shorter and at a reach and power disadvantage. Given all that, some expected, myself included, that Benavidez's performance would catapult him into stardom. Benavidez's win undoubtedly earned him the attention of media, but not the kind he or his team likely hoped for. The press wasted little time in questioning his decision victory.
Perhaps the single most frustrating aspect of the decision was that Herrera consistently pressed the action, controlled the center of the ring and often seemed to be the only one really throwing punches. In short, Herrera looked like the challenger working hard for the praise of fans and judges, even though he was actually the defending belt holder.
This is the second tough-to-stomach decision that has gone the wrong way for Herrera. The first came against current junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia, in a fight that Herrera controlled with an effective jab and awkward style. Now, his brand of boxing was once again snubbed by the judges, one of whom scored the fight 117-111 in Benavidez's favor. Against Garcia, the judges turned a blind eye to Herrera's effective jab. In this fight, the judges seemingly decided that body punches didn't matter because throughout the night Herrera unleashed vicious body blows on Benavidez, who often found himself pressed tightly against the ropes.
In the main event, Timothy Bradley struggled with the speed and sharpness of Diego Chaves. As Bradley transitioned from boxer to brawler, he repeatedly engaged Chaves on the inside, unafraid of going blow for blow. The fans at home were likely as surprised as those in the arena. The infighting and Chaves' surprisingly fast jab caused serious swelling in Bradley's left eye, which only further closed the gap between the fighters.
Despite his successes, Chaves was more often than not beat to the punch and slowed toward the latter end of the fight. I scored the match seven rounds to five, in Bradley's favor. The draw the judges ultimately awarded was generous and maybe took into consideration the shock factor of watching Chaves lure Bradley into a scrap instead of a chess match.
Whatever the reason, there were plenty in press row who took offense to the decision. While I couldn't muster up the indignation some others felt for the decision, I couldn't help but think that: (1) had Chaves not faded in the second half of the fight, he could have caused huge ripples in the boxing world with an upset victory, and (2) if you leave it in the hands of the judges, you never really know what you're going to get.
New WBO middleweight champion Andy Lee knew that if he waited for the final bell to ring, the scored cards might not give him the crown that he'd been working so hard to achieve, so he didn't let the fight get that far. Some Vegas sports books had Lee a 3-to-1 underdog in the fight — odds that failed to take into account the hefty punch that Lee has always carried with him.
After a very slow start, where neither he nor his opponent, Matt Korobov, did much punching, Lee turned to the power that his first trainer, Emanuel Steward, developed. A right hook wobbled Korobov in the sixth, and Lee pounced. There's no clarity like knockout clarity. Lee is the new champ, with big fights now ahead of him against Billy Joe Saunders and, if he can successfully defend his title, a showdown with Gennady Golovkin sometime in 2015. Golovkin is another fighter who believes in the clarity of knockouts. Matching up two fighters with that same mindset means guaranteed action for everyone involved.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.